Sound: Asia probably got quite the shot in the arm after its classic single "Heat Of The Moment" found a prominent spot in the movie "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." Regardless of whether that played a role in Asia's original members' (Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, John Wetton, and Carl Palmer) reunion not too long after, fans of the band's early hits should be pleased with the results of the new collaboration. The classic lineup's first album in 25 years, Phoenix, feels eerily like you stepped back into 1982. In this particular case, that's actually a good thing.
When Howe talked with Ultimate-Guitar recently, he did mention that making Phoenix at first seemed a challenge considering that so many years had passed, but the record conveys that same chemistry you hear on the band's debut Asia record. This is an album full of pop-rock songs, although Howe has injected some Yes traits into the mix thanks to some cool solos and effects throughout. If you're turned off by obvious radio hits or an abundance of synthesizer, you'll undoubtedly dislike Phoenix. But fans of hits like Heat Of The Moment and Only Time Will Tell will still likely wrap their arms around the album, given that Asia sounds as solid as ever. That includes vocals, with Wetton pulling off the amazing feat of sounding pretty much exactly like he did back in 1982.
The vast majority of tracks on Phoenix are your basic pop songs at the core, but they still have that little extra zing with layered instruments and incredible production value. If you crave nostalgia, the opening track Never Again will give you that 80's fix you're needing. It could have easily fit on the debut record, and in a way it gives the fans reassurance that this is not a band that has lost touch with why it's songs gained attention in the first place. The follow-up song Nothing's Forever takes more of a dramatic touch with an intro that seemingly has a full horn section, but more likely it's the magic of Downes' synthesizer.
Things take more of an experimental turn in "Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise," which by the title you might have guessed is the epic track on the record. The highlight is absolutely Howe's work on the "Sleeping Giant" section, which lasts for the first few minutes. At times his guitar sounds like a sitar, and the whole vibe is enhanced by vocal chants in the background. The "No Way Back" portion is somewhat of a letdown in comparison to the grandiose work on "Sleeping Giant," but it's still a solid track.
There is a decent balance of pop and epic/progressive numbers, and the musicianship is evident in every track. You'll hear ample solo work from Howe and Downes (who both deliver some very cool work on "Wish I'd Known All Along"), with the majority of tracks clocking in at over 5 minutes. Every song is heavy on the synth and that element usually overtakes the guitar, so be forewarned that the album tends to have a perky sound across the board. // 8
Lyrics: Most of the tracks are quite strong lyrically on Phoenix, which is interesting considering that there were so many different combinations of writers on the album. There is a distinct style to each one, and I think that having so many different writers did the band a great service. One particularly memorable track is Wish I'd Known All Along in which Wetton sings, When you meet the preacher man; Remind him of your fear; Over which you operate, operate control; When the truth is recalled; The evidence resound; It's the price you'll pay; On the rebound. The love song Heroine tends to feel a bit cheesy, but that's really the only low point lyrically. // 9
Overall Impression: Asia is a band that won't click with everyone, but that isn't really news to most of us at this point. If you didn't care for them back in the '80s, then it's safe to say you won't like them now. They take more of a gutsy stance on the instrumentation and solos (a few songs are over 8 minutes long), and musically they blow plenty of these younger bands away in that department. The fact is that they do have a lot of radio potential with Phoenix, and for the general public, that may actually overshadow even the most impressive solos that Howe delivers on the album. // 8
- Carlos Ramirez (c) 2008